Based on a play called Mariela's Kitchen, which I wrote in 1997 while doing my MFA in Film Directing at CalArts in Los Angeles, Undertow (Contracorriente) tells the story of Miguel, a married and soon to be a father fisherman who has a very secret love affair with another man in a religious and remote fishing village of Peru. After a tragic accident, the secret starts to leak and Miguel is forced to face his true self.
The first real breakthrough for Undertow was the Outfest Screenwriting Lab in 2003. The screenplay had been a semi-finalist for a prestigious Nicholl Fellowship Award earlier that year, and got the attention of many production companies in Hollywood at first... only to be turned down later by all of them because of its subject matter, which was very disappointing.
The Outfest Screenwriting Lab helped me believe that I had something worthwhile to tell and that others were interested in seeing that story come to life.
It was one of the most special experiences I had in the whole process of making this movie. It felt great to be treated seriously as a writer, to get comprehensive, intelligent and coherent feedback from five talented and successful film professionals who themselves have written and directed stories that center on LGBT characters and themes. They also shared with us their first-hand experiences and insider tips that have helped me navigate the difficulties and obstacles that we face when trying to tell these stories. In a few words, the screenwriting lab was a great first step to making my movie and I highly recommend it.
After three years of attempting to find investors for the film in the U.S., I realized that a film with a gay love story in Spanish and with unknown actors had very little chance of getting financed here, and so I started looking elsewhere.
I was invited to participate in the Co-production Market at the Berlin Film Festival in 2005 and met my German co-producers, Neue Cameo Films, there. In a year they were able to raise the first installment of financing through a regional cultural fund. Memento Films, our French co-producers, who had heard about the project through the Berlin Film Festival, contacted us in 2006. They signed up pretty quickly and in 2007 were able to raise funds through the Fonds Sud, a cultural fund designed to support film co-productions between France and developing countries.
Finally, in 2008, Dynamo Capital, a Colombian private fund and production company, got on board to lead the production of Undertow as well as to invest in the film. That same year we won the Peruvian Film Fund and the Ibermedia Co-production Fund (designed to create co-productions between Latin America, Spain and Portugal) and were able to close the financing of the film.
We started pre-production on July of 2008 and shot the film in Cabo Blanco, a small fishing village in the Northern coast of Peru, in November and December of that year. The cast and crew was truly a Latin American melting pot, predominantly Peruvian, but with key members from Colombia, Mexico, Bolivia and Venezuela.
The post-production of the film was done in 5 different countries (Canada, Colombia, France, Germany and United States) and the film finally premiered at the San Sebastián International Film Festival on September of 2009, where it was very well received by critics and audiences... and where it won the Sebastiane Award for best movie with a LGBT theme.
Undertow had its American premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition and since then it has been invited to more than 40 film festivals around the world and has won 13 awards in 6 months, 7 of which were given by audiences from different continents.
The Los Angeles premiere will take place this Tuesday, July 13th at the 2010 Outfest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival... 7 years after Contracorriente started its life there. It's like coming home.